The dean of Kansas University's largest school is leaving to take a post at her alma mater but she says the reason isn't related to KU's continuing budget problems.
Sally Frost Mason, who has headed KU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences since 1996, announced in early March that she will become provost at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
"This wasn't an easy decision," she said. "It's been harder than I ever imagined."
Mason, 50, begins her new position July 1.
"The university is losing a great teacher and administrator," KU Provost David Shulenburger said at the time of the announcement. "Sally has been a strong advocate for the liberal arts and sciences. Under her leadership both the teaching and research missions of the university have been greatly strengthened."
KU will begin a national search for a new dean this fall. An interim dean will be appointed later this spring.
Mason said her exit is not a consequence of the university's budget woes.
"I want everyone to know (Purdue) started recruiting me before we knew what the governor's budget was going to be," she said. "I cannot say my going to Purdue was because of the budget cuts, but I will say it's extremely unfortunate that higher education in Kansas continues to face these kinds of challenges. But, again, that's not why I'm going."
Asked whether KU's fiscal problems makes it fertile ground for recruiters from other universities, Mason paused. "Uh, I guess you could say it wouldn't be a bad place to look," she said.
Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, wondered whether Mason was being polite.
"It has to be frustrating for her," she said. "I know a lot of people at KU are feeling underappreciated these days. This sounds like a great career opportunity for her, and I'm sure a fresh start sounds pretty appealing right about now."
At Purdue, Mason will be responsible for all aspects of teaching and related academic activities.
Her office will oversee academic support systems: libraries, computing center, student services and research facilities.
Mason earned a master's degree in developmental biology from Purdue in 1974.
A native of New York City, Mason joined the KU faculty in 1980 as an assistant professor in the physiology and cell biology department. She was promoted to full professor in 1991.
She was named dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1996. She continues to teach Introduction to Biology and Principles of Embryology courses.
Throughout her tenure at KU, Mason said, she's declined several uninvited offers from other universities. But a year ago, Mason and her husband, Kenneth, decided that she should at least explore some of the offers.
Since then, Mason said she's had offers from six universities.
"At first, I was very impressed," she said of Purdue's offer. "And then, the more we got into it, I got very excited. Being an alumnae, I care for Purdue; it also has a new president, a very good faculty, and some very exciting things going on."
A bigger campus
Purdue has five campuses and a combined enrollment of 66,455 students, more than twice the 28,329 students on the KU and KU Medical Center campuses.
While at KU, Mason has presided over a 61 percent increase in the college's endowment fund; the merger of six science-related departments into two; the creation of the Indigenous Nations Studies graduate program; expansion of the college's outreach programs; and expansion of offerings at KU's Edwards Campus in Overland Park.
She has hired more than a quarter of the current faculty, placing emphasis on hiring female faculty in the sciences.
The college's chemistry department now ranks No. 2 in the nation for its female faculty ratio.The astronomy and physics department has five female faculty members, while the national mean for astronomy departments is fewer than two.
Mason was a finalist in 1999 for the HOPE Award, an annual student-directed award recognizing outstanding faculty.
Kenneth Mason, an assistant professor of genetics, also has accepted a position at Purdue.